Most of our group awoke on the morning of day-7 with a mix of emotions. Exhaustion was certainly on the list. But so was pride. There was relief that the end was in sight and excitement that we would soon be reunited with family and friends at the finish line. Melancholy was also along for the ride as we all knew our wonderful journey was coming to an end. But before we could savour the mix, we had a ride to complete and having enjoyed such an amazing week we were all keen to ensure that day-7 became the perfect book-end for our tour.
Marysville’s location ensured that our first pedal strokes for the day were uphill – and needless to say, those first few kilometres of gradual ascent were very much on the slow and painful end of the spectrum as tired legs and weary bodies slowly warmed up for the day.
Ride Director, Tim Chadd, had given us a heads up that our first significant segment of the day, the Black Spur, was a stunning piece of road and that we were in for a real treat. Of course, Tim has mislead us (always with the best of intentions) several times this week, and your blogger was certainly guilty of discounting his pep talk on this occasion. If we’d know what was in store for us we may have found the energy to get there sooner as Tim had in no way exaggerated. Even after the week we have had, the Black Spur was spectacular! As we climbed gently along the Maroondah Highway towards Healesville, we were treated to a 20km section of road that snaked its way through Yarra Ranges National Park and its ancient forests. As our climb tuned into a long gentle descent, the flowing corners gave us panoramic views of seemingly endless stands of the world’s tallest flowering tree – the eucalyptus regnans. These giants, with their lightly coloured trunks and almost totally devoid of branches until they reached the canopy contrasted the lush green tree ferns that dominated the undergrowth. The combination made for an other-worldly setting – and all of a sudden the energy in the peloton returned. Smiles were broad across our faces and we were well and truly on our way.
Tim, you were right – a truly special piece of road, thank you!
After a leisurely pit stop in Healesville where superlatives were flowing thick and fast as your riders compared Black Spur notes, we followed the road to Yarra Glen. Vineyards and wineries to the left and to the right – many of our number were eager to stop and sample some of the local produce, but to no avail. This is beautiful country – rolling hills, quiet roads and vineyards in every direction. They’ve been growing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon here since 1838 and if we didn’t know better we could have been riding through the Loire Valley.
Much to our chagrin, this we were not going to simply roll into Melbourne on a sight-seeing tour. We had promised 7-peaks in 7-days, and we had one more peak to go. Just past Yarra Glen, we turned left and headed towards the slopes of Yarra Ridge. Whilst Yarra Ridge did not present the same vertical challenges as some of our earlier climbs – what it lacked in height, it more than made up for in steepness. The opening slope hit us hard at 14% - and we began to realise that as close as we were to home, we still had plenty of work to do. After a long stretch of around 10% were completely smacked in the face by a 20% stretch! Now 20% will get the attention of any rider – but for our group, at the tail end of our tour, it was a real challenge. We were all out of our saddles, searching for one more gear – that wasn’t there – and battling our way to the top. When we reach the summit, we weren’t done, across the top of the plateau there were several small descents followed by significant pinches to reclaim the altitude just lost. This process continued for almost 10kms and the peloton was stretched across the plateau in various stages of exhaustion, exasperation and, perhaps, desperation.
Regrouping at St Andrews, we were able to catch our breath and to make a final left hand turn towards Melbourne. What followed was a long, gentle descent into Ivanhoe of around 30kms. With our lead and tailing cars affording us separation from the traffic we were able to maintain great pace and made it to lunch before we knew it. La Porchetta, Ivanhoe has never seen anything like it! 58 lycra clad riders, plus our full support crew rolling in and taking over. There was pizza everywhere you looked – and yet when we left, there was but crust remaining.
Knowing that once we rolled in our final destination that we would struggle to see everyone as spending time with loved ones would become the priority, we took a few moments to say ‘thank you’ and ‘good-bye’ to each other in the La Porchetta carpark. Whilst not necessarily the ideal location, location was the last thing on our minds as Michael ‘I-need-a-hug’ Tritton led us through the logistics and significance of lining up and spending at least a few moments with each other person in our group. As in previous years, this was an emotional and special time – a perfect opportunity to thank everyone for their role in making the week the huge success it’s been.
Back on our bikes, we had two final highlights ahead of us – the first was to ride through Yarra Bend Park - the largest area of natural bushland near the heart of Melbourne. The park features steep river escarpments, open woodlands, playing fields and golf courses and is traversed by a popular piece of bitumen for cyclists and runners alike who frequent the park as an oasis of green so close to Melbourne city. At this point we were less than 10km to our final destination, the rowing sheds at Alexandra Gardens and everyone’s thoughts were well and truly on rolling across the finish line and seeing the smiling faces of those who had made the journey to greet us at the finish and provide us with our final highlight of the week.
Most of your riders have not competed at an elite level (although in our peloton there are a few notable exceptions). This blogger at least, imagines that the relief, excitement, joy and raw emotion of rolling across the finish line, hearing the cheers of those who came to greet us must be something like the feeling of competing and succeeding at that level.
Everyone was off their bikes as soon as possible – there were hugs and kisses to give and to receive. It was heart-warming to see husbands and wives, fathers, mothers and children embracing tightly – thankful to have loved ones back, safe and sound. There were tears and high-fives – and a couple of quiet beers and a glass or two of champagne to enjoy. A beautiful way to wrap up an amazing week.
For those readers who were able to support us along the way, thank you – it’s been quite a ride. For those who may not have made a donation at this stage – it’s not too late, every dollar counts!